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Scores dead or missing in Australian floods

In Uncategorized on January 12, 2011 at 7:10 am

 Australia braced for a rapidly rising death toll Tuesday after flash floods killed eight and left 72 missing, as a quickly spreading flood disaster forced evacuations in central Brisbane.


A sombre Prime Minister Julia Gillard, dressed in black, warned the country to prepare for the worst after flash floods described as an “inland tsunami” smashed mountainside Toowoomba, sweeping away entire houses.


“Yesterday we saw some simply shocking events in Toowoomba and other communities in the Lockyer Valley, literally walls of water smashing into cars and into buildings,” Gillard said.


“We have seen very dramatic images of cars tossed around, people on roofs of houses and on the roofs of cars and people literally hanging on for dear life to trees and to signposts.”

Screengrab taken on January 10, 2010 from footage aired by Australia’s Channel 9 shows flood waters racing through the city of Toowoomba.

Queensland state premier Anna Bligh said the death toll would rise “potentially quite dramatically”, with families among those missing and rescue efforts hampered by heavy rain and washed-away roads.


“Mother Nature has delivered something terrible in the last 48 hours but there’s more to go and our emergency people are more than up to that task,” said Bligh.


“This is going to be I think a very grim day, particularly for the people in that region, and a desperate hour here in Queensland.”


TV images showed Toowoomba’s streets turned into churning rapids dotted with floating cars, some with people sitting on top, while elsewhere residents were forced onto roofs as waters lapped at awnings.


Four of the dead were children, some of them swept away in cars driven by their mothers. A man and a younger male died in Murphy’s Creek near Toowoomba, 125 kilometres (80 miles) west of Brisbane in the Great Dividing Range.


Nineteen people have now died in flooding across Australia’s northeastern coal-mining and farming zone after weeks of rain blamed on the La Nina weather system, which has also dumped heavy snow on the northern United States.


Meanwhile floods that have devastated an area the size of France and Germany combined threatened central Brisbane, the state capital, forcing evacuations in a riverside inner city area and warnings for a swathe of suburbs.


“All members of the community who live or are currently near the Brisbane River at West End are advised to move to higher ground,” Queensland police said in a statement.


Hundreds of people were air-lifted out of outlying towns as floods that have cost billions of dollars in damage spread yet further.


Disaster coordinator Ian Stewart said he had serious concerns for the small Queensland town of Grantham, where three of the flash-flooding victims died and where dozens of residents are thought to be stranded.


“Grantham is going to be, in my view, just a disaster in terms of the number of homes that have been damaged or destroyed and we’re waiting on confirmation of potential extra loss of life,” Stewart said.


Federal MP Ian MacFarlane described dramatic scenes in Toowoomba as the flash flood deluged the town before subsiding within three hours, leaving scenes of destruction and people dead in their cars.


“We’re just seeing building after building, the water rushing in and blowing the windows out,” MacFarlane told Sky News. “Cars that were parked in the car parks were just lifted up and went bobbing down the street.”


Toowoomba mayor Peter Taylor said the town was struck without warning after two normally innocuous waterways suddenly overflowed.

“Torrential rain over a very short period of time came down two major creeks through the middle of the city which are normal quiet drainage ways, and people had no warning at all,” Taylor told the Seven Network.

“It was just unprecedented. Some people are saying an inland tsunami, and I think that probably sums it up really.”

Four military helicopters were sent to join the emergency effort but rescuers were badly hampered by continuing heavy rains in the Lockyer Valley region.

Source: SGGP

Australian regulator okays Singapore bourse merger

In Uncategorized on December 16, 2010 at 9:45 am

Australia’s competition watchdog said it will not oppose an 8.3 billion US dollar merger between the Australian and Singapore stock exchanges to create the world’s fifth biggest bourse.


In a move which brings the deal one step closer, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission said a Singapore Exchange Limited (SGX) and Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) merger would not substantially lessen competition.


“In Australia, SGX does not compete with ASX for trading, clearing or settlement services,” it said in a statement on Wednesday.


“ASX and SGX do compete for listing services, but only to a limited extent.”

Granite facade of the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX) in Sydney is seen in this file photo

The deal, which is hoped will create a regional trading hub to rival Hong Kong, is also being reviewed by Australia’s securities and foreign investment watchdogs, as well as the central bank, and must be approved by the Treasurer.


Australia’s parliament, where the centre-left government of Prime Minister Julia Gillard holds just a one-vote majority in the lower house — will then have to pass a bill that would allow the deal to go ahead.


The ASX welcomed the decision.


“Our focus continues to be on satisfying the regulatory process that is well under way,” an ASX spokesman told Dow Jones Newswires.


The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) said it focused its investigation on whether the proposed merger would affect a joint venture agreement between SGX and another company, Chi-X Global.


But it said the Singapore exchange’s 50-50 venture with Chi-X Global would not alter Chi-X’s wholly owned subsidiary Chi-X Australia’s incentives for establishing a trading venue to compete with the ASX.


The ACCC also rejected market concerns about access by third parties to the ASX’s market data, clearing and settlement facilities for the purpose of providing competing platforms for trading Australian-listed shares.


The Singapore bid has sparked a strong political backlash in Canberra, where key independent lawmakers have questioned Singapore’s human rights and democracy record and argued that the deal would disadvantage Australia.


But Australia’s stock exchange chief has lauded the proposal, saying the nation would benefit from a stock exchange with a heftier market capitalisation of 12.3 billion US dollars.


The deal would increase the size and diversity of options for investors and reduce costs for listed companies — “an outcome unequivocally in the national interest”, ASX chief executive Robert Elstone said earlier this month.


“The need for additional scale and regional relevance makes ASX’s participation in exchange consolidation a mandatory, not an elective, matter for all of its stakeholders, and not just its shareholders,” he said.


Elstone said the merger was the “natural competitive and regulatory evolution of Australia’s capital markets” given the rise of Asia as their economies industrialise.


The competition watchdog had been expected to approve the deal which is scheduled to complete in mid-2011, but one analyst at Wilson HTM Securities, Andrew Hills, said the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) and the government would prove greater obstacles.


“The big hurdle is FIRB and passing both houses of parliament,” Hills told Dow Jones Newswires.

Source: SGGP

Australian flyer Qantas hit by bird strike

In Uncategorized on November 17, 2010 at 3:00 am

PM meets Japanese and Australian counterparts

In Uncategorized on October 31, 2010 at 2:10 pm

Australian father gets life for drowning three sons

In Uncategorized on October 15, 2010 at 10:26 am

SYDNEY (AFP) – An Australian man was sentenced to life in jail Friday for murdering his three young sons by driving his car into a reservoir and leaving them inside.


Robert Farquharson had denied deliberately killing the boys, who were aged two, seven and 10, on Fathers’ Day 2005, saying he lost control of the car after blacking out during a coughing fit.

File photo shows police outside the Supreme Court in Melbourne. AFP

But a Victoria Supreme Court jury rejected his story. In sentencing him, Justice Lex Lasry said Farquharson had subjected his children to a terrifying death while his actions had devastated a number of people.


“Primary among them is your ex-wife Cindy Gambino, the mother of these three children,” Lasry said, adding that the tragedy of the case “almost defies imagination”.


Farquharson was returning home from a Fathers’ Day visit with Jai, 10, Tyler, 7, and two-year-old Bailey in September 2005 when he drove into the reservoir in southern Victoria state.


He managed to swim to the surface but the children, trapped by their seatbelts, drowned. Their mother Cindy Gambino said no sentence would ever be enough.


“I have a life sentence, so should he,” she said outside court.


Farquharson, who will not be eligible for parole for 33 years, is expected to appeal.

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Source: SGGP

Australian surfer killed by shark

In Uncategorized on August 17, 2010 at 11:22 am

 An Australian surfer died after being mauled by a shark Tuesday, the first fatal attack by one of the marine predators in Australian waters in almost two years.


Fellow surfers dragged the man from the water of a Western Australian beach and administered first aid, but the 31-year-old victim never regained consciousness, witnesses told local media.


“We wrapped a jumper around his legs and used a leg rope as a torniquet,” surfer Eddie Kilgallon told the Perth Now website after the attack close to the tourist town of Margaret River.


“I was holding what was left of his leg together. The bottom half of his thigh was exposed and ripped open. Half of his calf muscle was also torn to shreds.”


Kilgallon said fellow surfers tried to resuscitate and kept talking to the gravely injured man, who had been surfing at South Point break close to Gracetown, some 270 kilometres (165 miles) south of Perth.


“I saw he had a wedding ring and was telling him that his wife wanted to see him again,” he said. “His face was white but we started to get colour back into him. That’s when I thought he might have a chance.”


Gracetown resident Rob Alder, who performed mouth-to-mouth on the victim, said conditions were perfect for surfing and he was watching the waves to decide which break to surf when he saw the man disappear under the water.


“The board was floating by itself in the take-off zone, it looked as if it had been snapped,” he told ABC radio.


Alder said he alerted authorities and raced down to the point where he saw the victim on the rocks, already being treated by another surfer.


He said the man was unconscious and had a large gash on his leg which indicated the shark had probably taken an “exploratory nip” after mistaking the man for a seal.


“He hadn’t bitten away anything. It was like a nip. There was no sign that the shark had viewed the surfer as a meal,” Alder said.


“It was probably an exploratory nip, realised it wasn’t a seal, and let go. But that can be fatal.”


Cassandra Fisher, who works at a store in Gracetown, said she went down to the beach shortly after the attack and saw that other surfers were still out on the water, trapped by a lack of waves.


“They couldn’t get in, there were no waves,” Fisher said. “They were literally paddling for their lives. There were seals out there, it (the shark) was probably after them.”


Local media said the victim was enjoying a final surf before heading to the Western Australian goldfields mining region where he worked.


The death is the first since December 2008 when a man was attacked by a large shark, believed to be a great white, off the Western Australia coast while snorkelling with his son, according to the Australian Shark Attack File.


It was within one kilometre (mile) of where another surfer died after being attacked by two sharks in July 2004.


Sharks are a common feature of Australian waters but fatal attacks are rare, with only 24 recorded deaths in the 20 years up to June 2009.


“We understand that’s a risk we take when we surf,” Alder said.

Source: SGGP

Australian PM backs republic after queen’s death

In Uncategorized on August 17, 2010 at 11:21 am

 Australia should become a republic when Queen Elizabeth II dies or abdicates, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said on Tuesday, unexpectedly reviving an emotional debate just days ahead of national polls.


Gillard, whose centre-left Labor Party is in a tight electoral race against the conservative opposition, said a new monarch would be an “appropriate” time for Australia to stop having a British head of state.


“I believe that this nation should be a republic. I also believe that this nation has got a deep affection for Queen Elizabeth,” the Welsh-born Gillard told reporters.


“What I would like to see as prime minister is that we work our way through to an agreement on a model for the republic, but I think the appropriate time for this nation to move to being a republic is when we see the monarch change.”

File photo shows Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II (left) along with her husband Prince Philip (right) on a state visit to Germany.

Australians voted against turning the former colony into a republic in a 1999 referendum, and debate on the issue remains divisive.


“Obviously I’m hoping for Queen Elizabeth that she lives a long and happy life and having watched her mother, I think there’s every chance that she will live a long and happy life,” Gillard added.


“But I think that’s probably the appropriate point for a transition to a republic.”


Opposition Liberal/National Coalition chief Tony Abbott, a former leader of Australia’s main pro-monarchist movement, said did not expect any change “at least in our lifetimes”.


“While there may very well be further episodes of republicanism in this country, I am far from certain that, at least in our lifetimes, there’s likely to be any significant change,” he told the National Press Club in Canberra.


The comments reveal one of the few areas of genuine difference between the candidates ahead of Saturday’s elections, where Gillard is leading Abbott by four percentage points, according to the latest Newspoll.


Australia’s first woman prime minister is fighting to overcome voter unrest over her party coup against elected leader Kevin Rudd seven weeks ago, and avoid a shock defeat less than three years after Labor regained office.


Abbott, a religious conservative who was born in London and is known as the “Mad Monk” after he once trained for the Catholic priesthood, has reeled in Labor’s lead by promising to stop illegal immigrants and slash government debt.


British convicts arrived in Australia in 1788 and the territory’s states united in 1901 — considered the birth of the nation — but it was not until 1986 that Britain passed an act ending its right to make laws for the country.


Australia includes Britain’s Union Jack motif on its flag and has a governor-general who represents and is appointed by the queen. The countries also share widespread cultural similarities and family links.


A January visit by Britain’s Prince William, grandson of the 84-year-old queen, proved wildly popular with the public in what some commentators saw as a boon for pro-royals.


“Prince William, in his two-day charm offensive in Sydney, may have done more to set back the republican cause than anything since the 1999 referendum,” The Sydney Morning Herald wrote at the time.


Gillard is promising an economic boost through better education and training, along with improved healthcare helped by Labor’s planned national broadband network, which is intended to wire some 93 percent of homes.


Abbott has played heavily on Labor’s perceived disunity and accuses the government of overspending during the financial crisis, when massive stimulus helped Australia avoid a recession.

The opposition needs a swing of 2.3 percent to make Labor Australia’s first single-term government since World War II, after Rudd’s 2007 election over 11-year conservative leader John Howard.


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Source: SGGP

Australian PM ‘angry’ over pre-election leaks

In Uncategorized on July 28, 2010 at 3:18 am

Julia Gillard smiles as she takes on Opposition Leader Tony Abbott during the leaders’ debate at the National Press Club in Canberra on July 25, 2010. AFP

SYDNEY, July 28, 2010 (AFP) – Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Wednesday angrily denied opposing popular welfare increases after damaging cabinet leaks rocked her campaign for next month’s elections.


The centre-left leader admitted raising questions about a 50-billion-dollar (45 billion US) boost to old-age pensions and paid leave for new parents, but said she had always supported the measures.


“I understand that some might say that if you don’t sign on the bottom line … as soon as a proposal is put in front of your nose, somehow you lack passion or enthusiasm for it,” she told reporters in Adelaide.


“Frankly, I believe that analysis is completely ridiculous and absurd.”


She also flatly denied telling cabinet colleagues that she objected to the pension increase because “old people never vote for us”.


The passionate defence from Australia’s first female prime minister was a departure from her low-key campaign for August 21 elections, which has been threatened by policy blunders and a slump in the latest opinion poll.


Gillard, 48, is seeking a popular mandate after coming to power in a sensational Labor Party coup that ousted ex-leader Kevin Rudd in late June.


“You can be passionate about doing something and hard-headed in getting it done,” said Gillard, adding she was “angry” about the leak.


“So if people want a prime minister who will have a 50-billion-dollar expenditure before them and sign away without even a question asked, well I’m not it.


“I will always, always examine expenditure proposals, examine them rigorously, hold them up to the light, ask every question, require every answer to get to the bottom of what we need to know.”


The damaging leak apparently came from a cabinet source, raising questions about whether it was linked to a disgruntled Rudd. But the former prime minister denied trying to destabilise Gillard.


“Mr. Rudd remains committed to the re-election of the government,” his spokesman said.


The opposition Coalition leapt on the story, claiming Gillard’s government — largely unchanged from Rudd’s administration — lacked unity and was in disarray.


“She’s got a situation where her government is falling into chaos,” shadow cabinet member Andrew Robb told ABC Radio.


The elections, where Labor is fighting to avoid becoming the first one-term government since World War II, are seen as a battle over immigration, the economy and climate change.


But Gillard’s plans for a refugee centre in East Timor have been mired in confusion, while her 12-month consultation of a “citizens assembly” on introducing a carbon tax outraged environmentalists and the Greens party.


Meanwhile the opposition has contrasted its leader, father-of-three Tony Abbott, with the unmarried, childless Gillard, who has faced several questions about whether she plans to wed her partner, former hairdresser Tim Mathieson.


The conservative Coalition needs a 2.3 percent swing to return to power, less than three years after Rudd’s convincing election victory ended its 11 years of rule in November 2007.


The latest Newspoll survey released on Monday showed the Coalition had narrowed Labor’s lead to six percentage points, while Gillard’s approval rating was also sharply down.

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Source: SGGP

Protests as Australian PM delays climate action

In Uncategorized on July 23, 2010 at 11:17 am

SYDNEY, July 23, 2010 (AFP) – Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard Friday announced a new “citizens assembly” to guide action on global warming, in a major pre-election speech which was hit by protests and condemned by critics.


Security staff leapt on one demonstrator who invaded the auditorium and led him away in handcuffs, while chanting could be heard through much of Gillard’s address at a Brisbane university campus.

This Sky News television screen grab shows a demonstrator (2nd-R) being tackled by security staff on July 23, 2010 inside the venue at a Brisbane University Campus. AFP

The prime minister made only a slight pause and smiled briefly during the disturbance, which constituted the first hiccup of her tightly managed campaign for August 21 elections.


The 150-strong assembly, to consult over 12 months, was the centrepiece of Gillard’s long-awaited announcement on the environment, a key voting issue in the world’s biggest per capita polluter.


“Through a dedicated discussion, a representative group of Australians drawn from all ages, parts of the country and walks of life will help move us forward,” she said.


“And if I’m wrong and that group of Australians is not ready for the consequence of change, that will be a clear warning bell that our community has not been persuaded as deeply as required about the need for transformational change.”


Gillard said the assembly, helped by a new commission to sift scientific advice, would examine the case for a carbon-trading scheme which twice failed in parliament and was then shelved by ex-leader Kevin Rudd, badly damaging his support.


Australia’s first woman prime minister said she remained committed to a “market-based” solution to pollution as the country bids to cut emissions by five percent from 2000 levels by 2020.


Businesses would be given incentives to act immediately on pollution and Australia would make use of renewable energy, Gillard added, warning that she would only act “in step” with major economies.


But the initiative drew an outraged response from the Greens party, environmental groups and some academics. Greenpeace said Gillard was pandering to the powerful mining industry — seen as influential in some marginal seats.


“I’m pretty disgusted with what the prime minister came out with today,” said Greens Senator Christine Milne. “It was really a pretty weak position on climate change.”


Professor Warwick McKibbin, director of the Research School of Economics at the Australian National University, called the approach “extremely disappointing”.


“The science and expert input has made a strong case for action for more than a decade. A majority of Australians already want to take action on climate change,” he said.


Opposition leader Tony Abbott said the announcement was just “camouflage” for plans to introduce a carbon tax, while a coalition of green groups said the proposal was an “insult” and “appalling”.


“The citizens’ assembly is basically an insult to the millions of people who did vote for climate change action in 2007,” said the World Wildlife Fund’s Gilly Llewellyn.


Climate change, along with immigration and the economy, is considered a key issue for next month’s elections, where Gillard is seeking a public mandate after her shock ousting of Rudd in last month’s party coup.


Rudd won 2007 elections on an environmental platform and signed the Kyoto Protocol, describing climate change as the “greatest challenge of our generation”.


But the environmental push was derailed by the carbon scheme’s failure and last year’s unproductive UN climate summit in Copenhagen, where Rudd was a leading protagonist.


Gillard’s speech came as United States lawmakers scrapped plans to introduce climate change legislation, potentially setting back global efforts to control the Earth’s warming.


The prime minister, who is in a narrow race with Abbott, was also confronted by about a dozen demonstrators as she arrived for the speech. She later shrugged off the protests.


“We’re at a university, and universities tend to be home to passionate young Australians who make their voices heard in a variety of ways,” she said. “And we heard some voices today.”

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Source: SGGP

Australian PM calls poll, vowing to ‘move forward’

In Uncategorized on July 17, 2010 at 4:49 pm

AFP/File – Australian Prime Minister Julia

SYDNEY (AFP) – Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard Saturday called an August 21 election, vowing to tackle the flashpoint issues of refugees, the economy and global warming, just weeks after taking power.


Gillard, 48, said she would ask the Australian people to endorse her leadership after she ruthlessly deposed former prime minister Kevin Rudd in a party coup.


“Today I seek a mandate from the Australian people to move Australia forward,” Gillard said, officially kicking off the five-week campaign.


“This election I believe presents Australians with a very clear choice — whether we move Australia forward or go back.”


Australia’s first woman prime minister said the nation had “come too far as a country and evolved too much as a society to risk the kind of backward looking leadership” offered by her conservative opponent Tony Abbott.


The former industrial lawyer laid out her case for re-election on the issues of asylum seekers, economic management and climate change, painting herself as a progressive optimist who was “asking the Australian people for their trust.”


But — after just three weeks in office in which she insisted she had made some “big strides forward” — she warned it would be a “very close election” and that a “close, tough, hard-fought campaign” lay ahead.


She faces an uphill battle to deliver the centre-left ruling Labor party a second three-year term in office, after a spectacular fall from the dizzying heights of popularity it enjoyed for its first two years in power.


The bloody campaign pits self-confessed atheist Gillard against scrappy former student boxer Abbott, head of the Liberal-National coalition, who played a key role in sinking Rudd’s career.


Once regular sparring partners on commercial breakfast television, Gillard said she expected Abbott to prove a “robust” opponent.


The staunch Catholic attacked Gillard as “ruthless”, asking how voters could trust her “when even Kevin Rudd couldn’t” and when she couldn’t herself be sure she would serve a full term before being knifed by the factions.


Abbott said his Liberal-National party coalition would “stand up for Australia” and for real action on the economy and boatpeople


“I’m going to end the waste, repay the debt, stop the new taxes and stop the boats. That’s what you’ll get from me,” he said.


Gillard promised to outline her climate policies during the campaign and said she was “a person who believes climate change is real, who believes it’s caused by human activity and who has never equivocated in that belief.”


Abbott, who once dismissed climate change as “absolute crap” countered that a return to Labor would mean a carbon tax, saying: “It will be high and it will impact on everyone’s standard of living.”


The opposition would need to achieve a swing of 2.3 percent to return to power, less than three years after their 11 years in rule were ended by Rudd’s landslide election victory in November 2007.


John Warhurst, a political analyst from the Australian National University said Labor was likely to win, with incumbency and the polls both weighing in their favour and Gillard seen “on balance” as a plus.


Formerly his deputy, Gillard has enjoyed a strong opinion poll surge since succeeding Rudd, who in six months went from being one of the most popular prime ministers in Australian history to being discarded.


But Warhurst warned that it would be a fight won largely on personality.


Gillard could mount a very strong economic argument, but he said the inflammatory issue of boatpeople was “potentially a plus for the opposition.”


“That’s an issue also where I think Julia Gillard has stumbled in the past couple of weeks and has not performed particularly well,” he said.


A Nielsen and Galaxy opinion poll last week gave Labor a narrow but election-winning 52-48 percent lead over the opposition coalition, up from early June.


The election for members of the lower House of Representatives and half of the Senate is expected to be played out in key marginal seats in the populous eastern states of Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria.

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Source: SGGP